March 19, 2010, Newsletter Issue #72: Invent Your Own Language

Tip of the Week

If you really want to find out how a radio works, you build one. If you want to get a brass-tacks understanding of how airplanes work, build a flying model airplane. And if you want to understand languages at a fundamental level, guess what you do? Believe it or not, there is an entire hobby devoted to “constructed languages” (conlangs, for short) inspired partly by the linguistic exploits of J. R. R. Tolkien who, in writing his epic Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, actually created entire languages, complete with their own grammars, vocabularies, and alphabets. Tolkien was able to do this because he had a profound grasp of grammar and historical linguistics, and taught these subjects at Oxford where he was a professor. Languages were invented for the Star Wars films, and the Star Trek franchise has given us a made-up language—Klingon—invented by linguist Marc Orkand that people can learn thanks to grammars and taped lessons available commercially. Some conlang enthusiasts have even written special software to help take some of the drudgery out of building up your own private languge.

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